The theatre show ‘Us/Them’ by BRONKS had been praised as one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and I must say that I heartily agree with this sentiment.
The show aims to recreate the mass hostage-taking of over 1100 people, the majority of whom were children, by armed terrorists that occurred in Beslan in the Caucasus in 2004. The narrative is told from the point of view of two school children, played by actress Gytha Parmentier and actor Roman van Houtve, who use a blend of storytelling, singing and physical theatre to depict the different and often conflicting emotions that accompany trying to process experiencing such a traumatic event. Their performances were outstanding – they were totally absorbed in constructing the story in detail, and kept an almost unemotional and matter-of-fact approach in a similar way to an actual child describing events.
There were a few key highlights of the show for me. One was the use of string in the staging, which for me mimicked a playground and represented the precarious nature of the bombs planted by the terrorists in the crowded gymnasium. Another was the use of math equations on a chalk board to work out how many civilians there were per terrorist, but which subsequently kept a running record of how many people were dying progressively over the 50 hours of captivity.
However, the technique that really struck home for me was the children’s listing of the symptoms of dehydration – dry, sticky mouth, headache, dizziness, lack of urination, muscle cramps, delirium or unconsciousness – the severity of which they subtly kept reinforcing to the audience by repeatedly stating that they “had a dry throat” or “needed the toilet”, until they eventually started fainting in the middle of sentences.
The very end of the show seemed to criticise the portrayal of terrorist activity in the mainstream media, and brought into question the way in which we ourselves view disastrous events. For me, the end of the show was trying to emphasise how we can often disregard foreign disasters because they have no direct effect on our lives, when in reality we should care as much about them as if we had first-hand experience. The show was brilliant at addressing a very serious subject matter, while still maintaining a funny tone, resulting in what was for me the perfect balance of light and heavy to make an incredibly powerful performance.